“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on there. The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Really?” That is what I presume you are thinking at this very moment. Just hear me out.
Let me start out with the biggest complaint I hear about this film. The story becomes lighthearted. The book by Victor Hugo is not lighthearted, not in any way. So, I get the confusion and the dislike of making an animated children’s film out of it. I know that the gargoyle characters tend to get a lot of hate. But, those gargoyle’s break up the tension. They become the comic relief. They are needed. After all, this is a film intended for children/families.
There are so many small things within this film that make it great, and each time I watch it, I catch something new. Like, the lighting for example. Judge Claude Frollo’s face is almost always in shadow. And, when his face is actually lit up, it is done so by fire. This is even better when you remember that his song in the film is “Hellfire”, definitely one of the darkest songs ever written for a Disney film. Not only does this film contain one of the darkest song, but it also contains one of the most beautiful, and most religious songs ever written for Disney with “God Help The Outcasts”. In fact, this is one of the only animated Disney films that has a whole lot to do with religion (please correct me if I’m wrong). It’s not “in your face” religious, but it definitely has that undertone. I mean, Esmeralda, after being saved by Quasimodo from being burned at the stake, is lying in his arms in a Christ like form. (HELLO!)
Still on the subject of music here. Lyrically, this is, without a doubt, my favorite. Each song contains lines that are so very powerful. And, now, for a long list of examples.
- “And he saw corruption everywhere, except within” –The Bells Of Notre Dame
- “And for one time in his life of power and control, Frollo felt a twinge of fear for his immortal soul.” – The Bells of Notre Dame.
- “Now here is a riddle to guess if you can, sing the bells of Notre Dame. Who is the monster and who is the man?” –The Bells Of Notre Dame.
- Pretty much the whole beginning of the song “Out There”. The whole duet between Frollo and Quasimodo just shows how powerful one person can be and how much one person can influence another’s self-image.
- Honestly, I just like the way “parapets of stone” sounds in the song “Out There”.
- “If I was in their skin, I’d treasure ev’ry instant” – Out There.
- All of the song “God Help the Outcasts”. Like, every line, every note. It’s perfection.
- “I knew I’d never know that warm and loving glow, though I might wish with all my might. No face as hideous as my face was ever meant for heaven’s light.” –Heaven’s Light/Hellfire.
- “He made the Devil so much stronger than a man” – Heaven’s Light/Hellfire.
- “Choose me or your pyre. Be mine or you will burn” – Heaven’s Light/Hellfire.
- “We find you totally innocent, which is the worst crime of all.” – Court of Miracles.
- “So, here is a riddle to guess, if you can, sing the bells of Notre Dame. What makes a monster and what makes a man?” –The Bells of Notre Dame (reprise)
And two lines for fun:
- “Paris, the city of lover’s, is glowing this evening. Sure, that’s because it’s on fire. But, still, there’s ‘l’amour’” –A Guy Like You
- “And since you’re shaped like a croissant it, no question of, she’s gotta love a guy like you.” – A Guy Like You
I mean, just listen to the opening number.
How do you not get chills upon hearing it? The way the music builds at the end….
Characters, characters, characters, let’s talk about characters. First, it’s refreshing to have a Disney film where the male lead does not end up with the female lead. Now, I want to talk about the character of Clopin. He is probably one of my favorite Disney characters, simply because he is not the stereotypical good or evil character He’s a bit of both, which is shown most prominently in the song “Court of Miracles”. The fact that one can’t tell if he’s good or evil makes him one of the more realistic characters. After all, you can’t always tell if people are good or bad. And, it’s never one or the other. Everybody has the ability to be good and bad.
Frollo (along with Mother Gothel from Tangled) is one of the cruelest Disney villains, in my opinion. Think about it. He raised Quasimodo and, yet, he has no feelings or connections with him. He waits until the day that Quasimodo can be used in Frollo’s own favor. He even names him Quasimodo, meaning “half formed”. Frollo having no real emotional feeling towards Quasimodo is truly shown when Frollo takes his dagger and attempts to kill Quasimodo (Fun fact: During this scene, right as the dagger is being raised, fire is reflected within it).
I could go on for much longer. I could rewatch this film over and over again, and each time come up with something new. Hell. I didn’t even touch on the personification of the cathedral in this one. Or the significance of “Dias Irae” being laced throughout the music. OR the amazingness that is the character of Esmeralda.
Maybe the next time I watch it, I’ll have more to say. Until then……